Thursday, November 22, 2007

Keep the bastards honest!

Dean Johns, one of my faves at Malaysiakini has an interesting article Garments and governments in which he captured rather neatly the entire Australian political scene, currently at its most exciting phase in the 3-year parliamentary term for each government – the federal general election will be on this Saturday.

Oh, did I mention those Aussies enjoy 6 weeks of jolly campaigning where each party has been outbidding one another in the pork barrelling game, but with all promises costed (and in a case or two, with the guilty party torn to shreds when the costing maths didn’t work out or the promise had been a case of hypocritical volte-face).

If you want a quick and lucid introduction cum summarisation of what’s happening in Australian politics, this is THE article.

Dean was not just providing a picture of politics down under. His article carries a none too subtle message for Malaysians, as his article title alluded to, that “Governments are like socks and underwear - they should be changed frequently or they begin to smell.”

Succinctly sweet stressed!

One of the most important moderating factors in Australian politics that Dean didn’t mention, perhaps out of journalistic humility (no doubt a modesty picked up from his Malaysian wife? Hahaha), is the powerful, probing and pitiless Australian press.

“Keeping the bastards honest” was the favourite saying of the Australian Democratic Party (a minor party which was significant at one time, and then only in the Senate). The Democrats used that saying to signal to the Australian voters that its role would be to monitor the major parties, the Coalition & Labour Parties, for any naughty policies or practice.

Really this saying should rightfully go to the Australian press.

It is a role that Malaysiakini also attempts to play, and very successfully too. This has been the main reason why the government has been reluctant to grant it a licence to print and distribute hardcopies. The ruling party wants to limit the damage that an independent and fearless news medium like Malaysiakini can inflict on it.

In “keeping the bastards honest” the Malaysia media has to play a crucial role but alas, as another Malaysiakini columnist, Dr Bakri Musa wrote of the Bersih rally:

It turned out that the only folks befuddled on both days were ministers and officials. The citizens knew exactly what was going on despite the news blackout by the mainstream media. That more than anything demonstrates the irrelevance of their editors and reporters.

No amount of post-event editorial contortions could alter that fact. These editors and journalists have little left of their personal pride and professional integrity; they have completely prostituted themselves to being instruments of the state’s propaganda machinery.

They may have fancy titles as Group Editor or Editor-in-Chief, but their functions are nothing more than as chief errand boys and girls for the establishment. They accede only too willingly to orders from their political masters.

Once informative news pages are today filled with nothing more than ministerial speeches and press releases. Their formerly critical and influential Op-Ed columns are today reduced to carrying unashamedly toadying pieces praising the current leaders.


The mainstream media have failed in their basic duty to keep the public informed and holding those in power accountable. The media have become part of the establishment; their role model is Pravda.

As we cannot, at least in the intermediate term, rely on any of the Malaysian press other than the independent Malaysiakini, it is left to you, the voters, to decide on your choice of good government, and not on the hope-for miracle that would be wrought by a political or royal messiah.

“keep the bastards honest!”

1 comment:

  1. Bastards are illegitimates, and one cannot never expect bastards to be honest. By hook or by crook they will want to remain in power, usurping the rights of the citizens and plundering the nation's wealth for themselves.

    Good old word 'BASTARD' is. When I was younger, I often heard the word used - appropriately.

    Gave me a tickle to hear the word used again. Good old fashion world for anything illegitimate - including the present Buruk Negara regime.